Photo Credit: Greg Powers
As a college undergraduate, Cassie Meador once questioned her plans for a future in dance, but a chance encounter with staff from Takoma Park’s Dance Exchange opened her eyes to new possibilities.
“The core mission behind Dance Exchange—exploring who gets to dance, where dance happens and what dance is about—clearly articulated my belief that art can impact the world and pulled me into the field,” she said.
Now, 16 years later, Meador serves as the executive artistic director of the nonprofit that works to bring dance and art to people of all ages and backgrounds. The foundation has originated more than 250 dance works inspired by topics that range from genetics to racial equity, and performed in hospitals, shipyards and senior centers.
Whether organizing after-school dance classes or bringing forest rangers, dancers and students together in the parks to experience nature via dance movements, Meador is breaking down boundaries and engaging unlikely partners in art.
“I feel driven to support and organize networks of artists and to socially engage people, across the generations, in the arts,” Meador said, adding that the nonprofit works on projects reaching county, state, national and international participants and audiences.
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. On Nov. 7, Meador was awarded the 2017 County Executive’s Emerging Leader Award for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities. The annual awards are the county’s most prestigious honors conferred on individual artists, scholars, organizations and cultural patrons.
“Cassie is a uniquely energizing and responsive leader,” said Ouida Maedel, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company grants manager, of her former Dance Exchange colleague. Meador’s drive to make art accessible, she added, has resulted in unusual collaborations, like the 500-mile walk from Takoma Park to a West Virginian mountaintop that engaged people from all walks of life in a variety of art workshops, storytelling sessions and dance events.
“Cassie goes to where the people are; she doesn’t expect them to come to her,” Maedel said. “She’s gotten scientists, coal miners, park staff—people that don’t consider themselves dancers or artists—to realize that that they can make art. It’s pretty incredible.”
Meador used the same adjective to describe the county’s support for the arts. “What an incredible home Montgomery County has been for me–to develop as both a person and as a leader. I really feel that the county leadership values the contribution of artists,” she said.
The arts have always played a role in Meador’s life. Raised in Augusta, Georgia, she attended a magnet school for the arts from fifth through twelfth grade. “I grew up with all forms of the arts woven into rigorous academics, and I still lead a life of enquiry and art,” she said.
After graduation from Ohio State with a bachelor’s degree in dance, she joined the team she so admired at Dance Exchange and embarked on a mission of making dance part of everyday life for others. “I’ve held a lot of positions at Dance Exchange, and that laid the foundation to take on a leadership role,” she said of the 40-year-old foundation that moved to its permanent studio in Takoma Park two decades ago.
Meador said she also gained new insights about the needs and challenges faced by county residents by participating in the county’s year-long Leadership Montgomery Program. “You really get to learn deeply about the county and to meet people working across diverse sectors,” she said, adding that knowledge will assist in art and movement collaborations with groups as diverse as area food banks, senior centers and park staff.
She is especially excited about a program she launched in 2016 called Organizing Artists for Change, an initiative to support a network of socially engaged artists.
“I think everyone is hungry to connect with others. People young and old are feeling socially isolated, and are seeking ways to connect and care for themselves and others,” she said. “Dance can bring people together.”
Dance Exchange, located at 7117 Maple Ave., Takoma Park, Maryland, is a nonprofit arts organization committed to dancemaking and creative practices that engage individuals and communities of all ages. To learn more, visit www.danceexchange.org or call 301-270-6700. Learn more about Dance Exchange on CultureSpotMC here.